Kid's Stuff -- Books About Girls
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"Girls A To Z"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Suzanne Bloom
(Boyds Mills Press, 2002)

A groovy, multicultural girl-power alphabet book, with Eve the Engineer, Flora the Firefighter, Ula the Umpire, and others offering the promise that any little girl can be what she wants to be when she grows up... In addition to the professional positions and more esoteric choices, there are also some more traditional roles mixed in, such as librarian, teacher, nanny and next president, so no options are denied. The artwork is nice, the message is good... My only qualm was that Chris the Computer Whiz is wheelchair-bound, the only disabled character in the book... Glad to see disabilities represented, but that particular match-up seemed a bit stereotyped. Anyway, if you're looking for a nice girl-power book, along the lines of Two Girls Can, this is a nice option. (B+)


"Emily And Alice"
Written by Joyce Champion
Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson
(Voyager, 1993)

(-)


"Emily And Alice Again"
Written by Joyce Champion
Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson
(Harcourt Brace/Gulliver, 1995)

Three simple stories about friendship between two young girls... In the first story, Emily just has to have the new Alice's sunglasses, and goes to great lengths to set up a trade. In the second, Alice gets a new hat, but is too self-conscious to wear it to school; Emily helps bolster her confidence. The third story involves a scary sleepover: if you're avoiding the whole "scared of the dark" topic, skip this last one. These stories are nice -- they show the give-and-take of normal, emotionally supportive relationships. Nothing fancy, but it shows a good friendship with a degree of complexity and give-and-take dynamics. (B)


"Emily And Alice, Best Friends"
Written by Joyce Champion
Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson
(Gulliver, 2001)

(-)


"Emily And Alice Stick Together"
Written by Joyce Champion
Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson
(Gulliver, 2001)

(-)


"Ella Sarah Gets Dressed"
Written by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
(Harcourt, 2003)

This is one of the best children's books of recent vintage, about a headstrong little girl who wakes up one day with a very specific -- and very distinctive -- outfit in mind: her pink polka-dot pants, a dress with the orange-and-green flowers, purple-and-blue striped socks, yellow shoes and her red hat. Although various family members try to discourage her, Ella Sarah sticks to her guns, and dresses the way she wants to -- just in time for a dress-up party with some visiting friends. I've seen where some parents find this book too negative (ie, Ella throwing a mild fit and then "getting her way..."), but I fall pretty flatly on the side of those who see this book as a celebration of individuality and the creative spirit. Plus the artwork is cool: it won a Caldicott award, and deservedly so. Recommended! (A)


"Best Best Friends"
Written by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
(Harcourt, 2006)

Two friends get in a big fight... and it takes them a while to make up again. Fans of Ella Sarah may be surprised by the harsher tone of this book, but the message may still ring true... (-)


"Lottie's Princess Dress"
Written by Doris Dorrie
Illustrated by Julia Kaergel
(Penguin/Dial, 1999)

A lighthearted take on the whole tough-getting-kids-out-the-door dilemma... It's a school (and work) day and Lottie's harried mother grows increasingly exasperated while trying to hustle the dreamy-headed young'un out to greet the day. She wants Lottie to bundle up against the cold, but the girl insists on wearing her golden princess dress, and in the argument that follows, Mom briefly blows her stack and then apologizes. She eventually gives in and lets Lottie wear her dress-up clothes, and what's more, Lottie convinces Mom to wear her fancy evening dress, too, so that they'll be dressed up together. Lottie keeps insisting that they should dress fancy because it's a "special" day -- and when the do dress up, it becomes a special day, with strangers and teachers and co-workers smiling at a parent who's been drawn into the magical world of playtime. The book is bittersweet, touching both on conflict and playfulness. Since no daddy appears, it can also be taken as a single-parent book. Recommended! (B+)


"Know What I Saw?"
Written by Aileen Fisher
Illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix
(Roaring Brook, 2005)

A groovy counting + nature + girl power book... A young girl (maybe 6 or 7?) climbs a tree, and tromps through forest and field, encountering raccoons and mice, bunnies, skunks and kittens... The artwork is obviously based on photo studies, but nonetheless is warm and appealing (and is the source of the "girl-power" theme -- the text is gender neutral.) The rhyming text, which counts backwards from ten to one, is quite effective, with a nice rhythmic bounce to it... All in all, a fine counting book, good for older kids as well. (A)


"Priscilla And The Pink Planet"
Written by Nathaniel Hobbie
Illustrated by Jocelyn Hobbie
(Little, Brown, 2004)

Imagining a world where everything is pink -- pink, pink, pink, I tell you!! -- a little girl named Priscilla finds herself heartily sick of the delicate hue and persuades the Queen of the planet to allow other colors to be seen. The text is a would-be Seussian rhyme, decently crafted but a bit overcooked, and the art is cluttered and difficult to zero in on... Midway through, my girl asked me to read something else -- this one simply didn't click. I suppose if you had a real frilly, lacy, super-pinked-out girly-girl on your hands, this one might have more resonance, but it was a dud in our household. (C-)


"Daffodil"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki
(Farrar Strauss/Frances Foster Books, 2004)

Jenkins and Bogacki team up for another offbeat story, this time about a young girl named Daffodil who feels oppressed by her mother's insistence that Daffoldil wear yellow dresses whenever they go out to parties. See, Daffodil is one of three identical triplets, and she and her sisters, Violet and Rose, have been color-sorted by their well-intentioned mom, who just wants people to be able to tell the girls apart. In the end, Daffodil rebels, which inspires her sisters to reveal that they, too, hate having to wear the same old dresses all the time. When I first found this book, I was a little concerned that it might overly highlight negative emotions (Daffodil pitches a real fit when she finally stands up for herself...) but my little girl really warmed to the story, and we don't seem to be much more tantrummy now than we were pre-Daffodil... Like Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, this is a good story showing how personal fashion can be be important to little kids (particularly girls) who are trying to establish their own identities and personal boundaries, apart from those imposed by their parents. (Plus, we had a lot of fun making cut-out dresses and paper dolls that looked like Daffodil and her sisters...) (A-)


"Daffodil Crocodile"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki
(Farrar Strauss/Frances Foster Books, 2007)

Daffodil is back, and as prickly and charming as ever. Although the triplets resolved their going-to-parties dressing up cutesy-cute issues in the previous book, being identical still presents problems elsewhere, especially at school, where teachers and even her closest playmates still mistake Daffodil for her flower-named siblings. When their mother makes a life-size, paper-mache crocodile mask in one of her art classes, Daffodil literally seizes the opportunity to become someone new and more distinctive. Eager to differentiate herself from Violet and Rose, Daffodil wears the mask night and day, even taking it to school and growling RAA RAA RAA at everyone she sees. Even though her teachers, sisters and fellows students all tell her she's acting weird, Daffodil sticks to her guns and wears the new identity until finally the mask falls apart. But even though she has to be Daffodil again, she insists that she's still not a flower, and not a nice, gentle, little girl. A playful celebration of rowdiness and a child's right to define their personality... As with the first Daffodil book, this might not be for everyone, but if you're on their wavelength, Jenkins and Bogacki have made another fun book with a complex emotional core. (A-)


"Girl, You're Amazing!"
Written by Virginia Kroll
Illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
(Albert Whitman & Co., 2004)

Like its masculine companion, Boy, You're Amazing, this is a self-esteem book for kids that affirms a variety of emotional, academic and athletic skills. It's a very positive book, showing girls in a variety of activities, including many that are traditionally thought of as "masculine." It suffers only in comparison to the "boy" book, which places greater emphasis on physical accomplishment and professional opportunities. Girls are seen climbing trees, doing gymnastics, playing basketball, baseball and volleyball, but there's a preponderance of scenes involving emotional intelligence -- sharing, problem-solving, conflict resolution -- and domestic skills such as packing one's lunch, babysitting, sewing, gardening and caring for pets. Some professional possibilities are hinted at -- science is mentioned, we see small pictures of grown women flying planes and being doctors, but on the whole, this books seems pretty "girly." It's fine if read by itself, although one can't shake the feeling, if you read these two books together, that boys are being shown that they have more paths open to them and a wider variety of activities to chose from. (B)


"Dahlia"
Written by Barbara McClintock
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Frances Foster Books/Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2002)

I lo-o-o-ove Barbara McClintock's artwork, her beautifully-rendered, cheerfully subversive reappropriation of old-fashioned, Edwardian draftsmanship, and how she uses it to tell a slightly more chaotic, more true-to-life kid's world view. Better still to have her write the stories, too, as seen here in this excellent tomboy tale. Meet Charlotte, a ponytailed brunette who lets her wheatstraw tresses go wild as she climbs trees, gathers pinecones and beetles and whips up some mighty mud pies. When her Aunt Edme gives Charlotte a delicate, pinafored porcelain doll, you think, uh-oh.... trouble ahead! But it turns out Aunt Edme is cool, too, and everyone's happy to see the new doll, Dahlia, go out and get a little fresh air. A fun, witty story, told with subtlety and economy, and lovely, lavish artwork. Recommended!
(A)


"One Morning In Maine"
Written by Robert McCloskey
Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
(Viking, 1952)

A long and involved story -- probably best for "older" kids, five or older (?) -- about a girl named Sal who lives with her parents and little sister out in a seaside cabin in rural Maine. On a day when she and her father are going into town to run errands, Sal loses the first of her baby teeth, and chatters happily about losing teeth, making wishes and becoming "a big girl." The literal-minded text is matched by McCloskey's detail-rich artwork, which evokes both the spendor of the natural world and the nuts-and-bolts complexities of the modern, industrial world. There's a lot to look at while all the words go by, especially when they go into town and visit the local mechanic, and then head over to the general store. The rustic, Eisenhower-era world that this book is set in is long gone, but Sal's childlike innocence and sense of adventure still rings true. (B+)


"Sisters"
Written by David McPhail
Illustrated by David McPhail
(Harcourt Brace, 1984)

A self-explanatory title... Two sisters, their likenesses and differences. The storytelling's a bit stiff. I think this is a book that speaks more to the nostalgia of adults than to the curiousity of children... It's okay, but neither my child nor I found this book very engaging. (C+)


"Two Girls Can"
Written by Keiko Narahashi
Illustrated by Keiko Narahashi
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2000)

I like this one. A lot. A pleasant, simple celebration of friendship (and girl power, though in a subtle, understated way..) Pairs of girls go through various everyday activities together -- playing games, reading inside, dressing up, hanging out -- and in the end, all the girls gather for a big dance party. The book is multicultural (again, without making a big deal of it...), life-affirming, and models many aspects of friendship, including negative emotions such as yelling at your friend, and then making up later. The artwork is joyful and appealing, with details that are easy to grasp and fun to talk about with little people. Nice! (A)


"A Fire Engine For Ruthie"
Written by Leslea Newman
Illustrated by Cyd Moore
(Clarion, 2004)

When Ruthie goes for a long visit to her grandmother's house, Nana has a bunch of great activities planned out, but the trouble is they're all too girly for Ruthie, who is a bit of a tomboy. Nana wants to play dress-up and give Ruthie her old dolls, and do arts-and-crafts projects, but Ruthie keeps trying to hook up with the kid next door, a boy who has toy trucks and trains and motorcycles to play with. It takes several days for Nana to catch on, and though her feelings are a little hurt at first, she finally takes Ruthie over for a playdate, where all three of them have a great time playing with all those great toys that have wheels. This book certainly wears its message on its sleeve, but still a nice story. The ending, where Nana gets into their playtime, is cool, and the day-by-day, step-by-step structure helps build the narrative. Nice artwork, too. Whether you're reading to a boy, a tomboy or a girly-girl, this is a cool story about how adults can learn to listen and find out what their kids are really interested in... Also nice for all the alterna- and nontraditional types out there. Recommended! (A)


"Way Up High In A Tall Green Tree"
Written by Jan Peck
Illustrated by Valeria Petrone
(Simon & Schuster, 2005)

The follow-up to Peck's Way Down Deep In The Deep Blue Sea, this features a young girl meeting numerous jungle animals as she climbs higher and higher into a seemingly limitless tree. When she sees the moon through the uppermost leaves, it's time to come back down, and that's when we discover that was actually climbing to the upper tier of her bunk bed, and that all the animals are her bedtime toys. Nice images of an active, athletic, fearless little girl -- Deep Blue Sea is the male version of the same basic format. (B+)


"The Dearest Little Mouse In The World"
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
(North-South Books, 2004)

This one, a translation of a book from Belgium, is a longtime favorite at our house... Highly recommended! It's the story of an adorable little girl mouse, Fay, who walks to school by herself and one day is frightened by a big black dog (actually a small, fuzzy puppy) who just wants to say "hi!" but scares Fay because of his size. Fay's parents sort the misunderstanding out, and the little girl goes back to make friends with the friendly dog. It's a very European story and moral -- we can sort our differences out through openness and understanding -- which is fine by me. Best of all is the delightful artwork by Quentin Greban, warm, playful and richly detailed, it makes fun of the little mice living inside a big human house, and also presents some of the cutest little black-nosed mousies you'll ever see. Great book. You'll love it. (A+)


"Begin At The Beginning: A Little Artist Learns About Life"
Written by Amy Schwartz
Illustrated by Amy Schwartz
(Katherine Tegen Books, 2005)

An interesting book about the pitfalls of over-thinking things and perfectionism. When a young girl named Sara is given a school assignment to make a painting for a school art show, she decides it has to be the best painting ever, showing the whole universe, from A to Z. She quickly runs up against a major case of artist's block, and nothing she tries lives up to her internal ideal. Finally, Sara spills out her feelings to her mom, who talks her down from the ledge and encourages her to start small -- perhaps just paint the tree outside her window, instead of trying to encompass all creation? It's a nice, gentle lesson, encouraging emotional and philosophical growth, as well as the creative artistic process. (B)


"A Beautiful Girl"
Written by Amy Schwartz
Illustrated by Amy Schwartz
(Roaring Brook Press, 2006)

A cute, goofy book about a little girl named Jenna who runs into several animals -- an elephant, a robin, a goldfish, a fly -- who each mistake her for one of their own kind and ask about the odd appearance of various body parts -- her trunk, beak, gills and compound eyes. When she explains to each in its turn that she is actually a little girl, and that she only has a nose, mouth, ears and regular old binocular eyes, they take it well, and tell her what a nice girl she is, then ask if they can tag along while she walks to the market. At the end of the book, they all have a picnic and the girl's mom comes to pick her up and take her home for bedtime. It's an oddball outing, but has a certain kooky charm... Also opens the door for discussions about non-mammilian biology and the like, if you are so inclined. Recommended! (B)


"Hi!"
Written by Ann Herbert Scott
Illustrated by Glo Coalson
(North-South Books, 1994)

I love this book, too. But it's my daughter who really got her mind blown by it... When we first started going out in the stroller all the time, she would wave and say "hi" to everyone, and the post office was a frequent destination (so that Daddy could pick up all his mail for the world-famous Slipcue.com website...) Thus, imagine her delight and astonishment when we brought home this charming story of a little girl named Margarita who goes to the post office with her mommy and tries to get the other patrons to say hello to her, only to meet with their indiffernce and lack of awareness. Margarita gets really bummed out that no one notices her (until, of course, somebody does, and she is ecstatic...) and the author's ability to get into the little child's frame of mind is quite lovely... My girl went crazy for this book -- it completely captured her own experience, and she asked for it me to read Hi! to her again and again... -- over a dozen times in a row -- the first time she ever had such a strong reaction to a book. Great story, and the artwork perfectly supports the text. Margarita emerges as one of the most delightful, enthusiastic characters you'll come across inside a picturebook for some time to come. Like many great children's books, this one is, sadly, out of print. It's worth tracking down a copy, though -- you'll be glad you did. (A+)


"Is Susan Here?"
Written by Janice May Udry
Illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer
(Harper Collins, 1962/1993)

A playful, imaginative little girl spends the whole day pretending to be different animals -- a tiger, a chicken, a monkey, a bear -- and saying "Where is Susan?" to her parents. They play along, and let the "animals" do all of Susan's chores until, at last, at bedtime, Susan returns. A cute story about fantasy and play, which shows how parents can join in the fun, too. Maybe not the most magical or technically skillful of children's books, but a good story that rings true and radiates warmth and love. Worth checking out! (B+)


"Suki's Kimono"
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stphane Jorisch
(Kids Can Press, 2003)

A young Japanese-American girl (well, Japanese-Canadian, actually...) wants to go to the first day of school wearing a formal, traditional kimono that her grandmother bought her. Her sisters mock Suki and warn her that the other kids will tease her and think she's weird. Suki wears the kimono anyway, and though a lot of kids do make fun of her, the children in her homeroom class are won over when Suki explains why the kimono means so much to her and shows them a Japanese folk dance that she learned at a summertime cultural festival. This book wears its multi-cultural message on its sleeve, but the obviousness of it doesn't make a dent in the sweet, charming story (which is buoyed by gorgeous, captivating artwork)... All the messages here -- embracing one's cultural roots, willing to not be "cool", and following your own individual interests and a reverence for things that are old or old-fashioned -- all ring true for me. Maybe for you as well? At any rate, Suki can hang out at our house any time... I like that kid! (A)


"Hello, Lulu"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Walker Books, 1999)

Meet Lulu, a cute, cheerful little girl with a cute, cheerful life. Here we're introduced to Lulu, her pets and her family... She goes to the park and plays with her pals, and generally seems quite content. Uff's approach is similar to Lucy Cousins' Maisy books -- there's bright, simple artwork, and a blandly perky heroine with no hint of any trouble or angst anywhere to be seen. Little kids, girls in particular, will love this book. One thing that's odd is that here they tell us that red is Lulu's favorite color, but they never follow up on this potentially diverting detail anywhere else in this book, or in the rest of the series. No big deal; it doesn't really matter. Anyway, my girl went koo-koo for Lulu -- we discovered her at the library and wound up buying our favorite books in the series, and are still getting plenty of milage out of them. Recommended, although this first volume isn't my favorite in the series. (B)


"Lulu's Busy Day"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Walker Books, 2000)

Perhaps the best of the Lulu books... Here Lulu plays in the park, eats a meal, does some art, takes a bubble bath, brushes her teeth and goes to bed, smiling all the while. There's no plot, really, but that won't affect the enjoyment of this book. Not at all. Nice, light entertainment and good role modeling as well. Recommended! (A)


"Happy Birthday, Lulu!"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Walker Books, 2000)

Lulu gets some cards in the mail, gets dressed in her pretty new clothes, has a modest birthday celebration with a handful of friends and her two siblings. Her big gift from her parents is a Noah's Ark toy -- if that sort of religious reference bothers you, you might want to skip this one... Or, you could just call it her "boat." All in all, this one's pretty nice, too... My kid loves these books. (A)


"Happy Christmas, Lulu!"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Orchard Books, 2003)

(-)


"Lulu's Holiday"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Walker Books, 2004)

Lulu goes to the beach, puts on sunscreen (or, "suncream," as they call it in the UK...) and plays in the waves and the sand. Another short, emphemeral offering in the "Lulu" series. (A)




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